Managers (Not Women) Must Break the Glass Ceiling

mindsets of managers Jul 03, 2024
Managers must create and break the glass ceiling

TLDR: Four mindsets of managers that hold women back and contribute to wage inequities and why it's not our responsibility to break the glass ceiling or create wage equity - it's the responsibility of managers and HR.

If organizations, coaches, and consultants spent half as much time getting managers to do their jobs rather than putting energy and effort into "fixing" women, we would be much further ahead on creating a level playing field, on women's advancement and on closing the wage gap.

For far too long, responsibility has been placed on women to break the glass ceiling.

This is ludicrous.

Yes, women can be prepared to move into ever higher positions, but the glass ceiling is created by managers, mostly men, whose decisions on promotions and hiring keep women out.

Mindsets of Managers that Hold Women Back

So instead of praising women for breaking the glass ceiling, let's focus attention on the managers who hire them. And on the fact that, by some means, these managers have managed to counter the mindsets held by so many managers that keep women back.

Motherhood Penalty and Fatherhood Reward

Mindsets reflected in comments like these.

  • "She wouldn't want that job. She's a mother."
  • "She wouldn't want that job. She'd have to relocate her family.
  • "She wouldn't want to have that job. It involves too much travel, which would take her away from her family."

These apparently "considerate" and sensitive comments are made from a mindset related to the Motherhood Penalty and Fatherhood Reward because the opposite is also said. 

  • "He deserves that job. He has a family to support."
  • "He's a family man, so let's give him that opportunity."
  • His family won't mind being uprooted. They will follow him wherever we assigned him."

Leadership = Command & Control

Another mindset that holds women back is the mindset that managers, both women and men have about what leadership looks like. 

If managers truly believed all the exhortations they hear from HR, and learning and development professionals, notable business journals and other publications, they would believe that people who engage their teams and who are inclusive should get ahead. They're the right ones to promote.

But a mindset that gets in the way of this is the mindset that says that leadership looks like command and control. And while in emergency situations or when time is essential, It might be true that command and control is a useful  strategy, in general, it is not.

But decisions are made about hiring and promotions where comments like these are made.

  • "Your team loves you. You're nice, but can you be effective?"
  • "She really has the support of her team, but can she make hard decisions?"
  • "She's great at including her team members in decision making. We aren't sure how comfortable she is with making decisions when they need to be made."

Ambitious People Ask for Opportunities

A third mindset that managers hold that will often be detrimental to women is the belief that if someone is ambitious he or she will ask for opportunities.

While this is often true of men and increasingly true of women, it isn't universally true.

There are many women whose mindset is a countervailing one. 

We believe that if we do good work, if we get results, our work will be recognized and rewards will come.

Instead of telling managers that they have to fix these and other mindsets that create career barriers for women, we exhort women to break the glass ceiling and we praise them when they do. 

Managers and HR Cause the Wage Gap

Similarly, when it comes to the wage gap, we tell women to negotiate, ask for more money.

And what happens when we do? Often, especially by the first gatekeepers in HR, we're considered pushy, too aggressive.

And when we don't, of course, we don't get the compensation that might be given to a man. 

Now what enables this?

It truly has nothing to do with whether or not women ask. Because, in many ways we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't.

It does have to do with gatekeeping and the fact that HR and HR systems will often penalize women who negotiate. They will often offer women compensation at the lowest possible point. 

And when it comes to routine salary increases managers, will often favor men (see mindsets above). 

Instead of telling women that we have to negotiate, let's fix the systems and let's change the mindsets of managers.

Let HR make it impossible for wage inequalities to develop over time based on manager's decisions about promotional increases.

Educate HR about how their mindsets can disadvantage women  when their companies are on a path toward wage equity.

This whole thing infuriates me because we've known all of this 50 years.

Differing degrees of sophistication and understanding But I can attest to the fact that these were conversations being had in the company I grew up in 50 years ago.

This it infuriates me because when I was CEO of my consulting business we would find  executives willing to undertake the journey toward changing the mindsets of managers, but then with the slightest of pushback, the shift would be made from:

"Let's talk about the generic mindsets of managers that impact the career trajectories of women."


"Let's talk about how unconscious bias affects everybody. Let's do broad diversity training."

Which only tended to water down the initiatives for women's advancement and do nothing for the advancement of other groups that are underrepresented in senior management and or that suffer from wage inequality.

Furthermore, most of these biases aren't unconscious at all. They are conscious, but they are justified in the minds of the people who have them.

So I'm on my soapbox about putting responsibility for women's advancement and wage equity where it belongs - in the hands of managers and in the hands of the HR professionals whose systems enable the inequalities and leave issues of mindset unaddressed.

Let's Recap

  1. Responsibility for breaking the glass ceiling and achieving wage equity rests in the hands of managers and HR. We as women cannot break the glass ceiling ourselves. We as women cannot achieve wage equity ourselves because we do not make promotion or hiring decisions, nor do we make compensation decisions for ourselves.
  2. Organizations that avoid addressing the mindsets that managers hold that are responsible for women's limited advancement need to step up and get it done.

What's A Woman To Do?

  1. If you're a manager, confront your own mindsets. Because sometimes we are in the position of saying things like, "She's nice, but can she be effective?" Or "She wouldn't want that job because of her family. Confront our own mindsets, about who's deserving of a higher pay raise, and why. And about our feelings when a woman pushes back on a salary offer as compared to when a man does.
  2. If you're in HR, I empathize with the fact that it's often an unvalued position and too much pushback can create challenges. But darn, if your company says it wants to do something about women's advancement and wage equity, step up.

    Look at the mindsets on your own team. And look at the mindsets built into HR processes, including - because I have to touch on it - your performance eval criteria, your leadership model and the items on your 360 or 180 evals. All too often these systems fail to give women the messaging we need about the importance of business, financial, and strategic acumen.

    And there's no way we'll be seen as viable candidates for openings if we aren't known for and don't demonstrate business savvy.

  3. If you're a woman ambitious for new opportunities and you're expecting wage equity, demonstrate your value by hitting and achieving your goals and becoming known for your business, financial and strategic acumen. It won't guarantee your success, but if you aren't, it will pretty much guarantee that you'll get stuck.

Catch you next time.


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